Nagarjuna lived in the second or third century AD. Does living ethically in the 2nd century mean the same thing as living ethically in the 21st century or are there new ethical dilemmas facing humanity today?
The basic principles of ethics remain the same throughout the centuries. In modern times, however, life is much more complicated than it was in Nargarjuna’s time, so that the application of those principles becomes more difficult.
What is it that makes an action either ethical or unethical?
An action is ethical if it is the expression of a skilful mental state, unethical if it is the expression of an unskilful mental state. This does not mean that ‘good intentions’ are enough.
When many people think of Buddhism, meditation and mindfulness probably come to mind rather than ethics. Do you think that Buddhism has a strong and distinctive approach to ethical issues which should be emphasized in presentations of Buddhism in general?
Indeed Buddhism does have such an emphasis. The Buddhist path consists, basically, of ethics, meditation, and wisdom. Without an ethical basis meditation has no foundation and without meditation wisdom has no foundation.
Do ethics belong to the realm of the individual, or is there a way in which ethical issues are a collective matter? In other words, what is the Sangha’s role in living ethically?
The Sangha is a community of spiritual friends. Its members help one another to live up to their common ethical and spiritual standards.
Finally, is there one particular message from the Precious Garland that you think is most relevant or important?
The message of the Precious Garland is that wisdom and ethics, in the Buddhist sense of these terms, should be an integral part of the life of every human being.